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Tuscaloosa, Ala. – A University of Alabama researcher and scientists at Michigan State University will study the relationship between the size of heat waves and what causes them across the United States.

David Keellings, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Alabama, was recently awarded a three-year, $340,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, The Tuscaloosa News reported.

The goal of the grant is to develop models to help predict when and where heat waves will occur. The research will also involve emergency response and public health with the aim of improved planning and response to heat waves, Keellings said.

“We’re trying to get at the basic understanding,” Keellings said. “We’re trying to think about heat waves as events with spatial dimensions as opposed to simply thinking of its temperature.”

Researchers at Michigan State University will work with Keellings on the project.

Heat waves have become larger and more severe in the past 60 years. Climate change is a likely culprit for more severe heat waves, but there’s much more to be learned about them, Keellings said.

“Temperature and extremes, such as heat waves, are the things we’re most certain about with climate change, and they have definitely become more frequent, higher in magnitude and longer in duration across many parts of the globe,” he said.

In general, a heat wave is defined as abnormally hot weather for the time of year for the location. They can be forecast, but it is difficult to predict the size, duration and intensity, the Tuscaloosa newspaper reported. The land also plays a role with factors such as soil moisture, urbanization and vegetation.

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